Prosodic Constraints on Children’s Variable Production of Grammatical Morphemes by Katherine Demuth (Macquarie University, New South Wales, Australia)
Language acquisition researchers have long observed that children's early use of grammatical morphemes is highly variable. It is generally thought that this is due to incomplete syntactic or semantic representations. However, recent crosslinguistic research has found that the variable production of grammatical morphemes such as articles and verbal inflections is phonologically conditioned. Thus, children are more likely to produce grammatical morphemes in simple phonological contexts than in those that are more complex. This suggests that some of the variability in children's early production (and perception) of grammatical morphemes may be due to phonological context effects, and that some aspects of children's syntactic/semantic representations may be in place earlier than typically assumed. This raises important theoretical and methodological issues for investigating syntactic knowledge in L1 acquisition, but also in bilinguals, L2 children and adults, and those with language impairment (SLI, bilinguals, children with hearing loss). Implications for understanding the mechanisms underlying language processing, the 'perception-production' gap, and a developmental model of speech planning, are discussed.